It is easy to write off Rambo: The Video Game immediately. If you take a glance at any of the official trailers, it does not take a genius to figure out that the game probably isn't going to be good. The ugly visuals combined with the on-rails nature of the gameplay, why on earth would you bother with Rambo: The Video Game?
However, unlike most, I am not entirely opposed to the idea of an on-rails first-person shooter and better yet, that type of gameplay would fit in well with the Rambo franchise. So well in fact, we have already had a Rambo arcade lightgun game created by Sega about five years ago!
But the big problem here is that this new Rambo game is not an arcade lightgun game, it's a game that is for the PC and consoles, with an extortionate price tag of $40. I think that says it all. If Rambo was a cheap $10 title, I could see myself recommending it to die-hard Rambo fans because it is fun in short bursts, but the core gameplay is far too simplistic and it can be completed in an afternoon.
Rambo: The Video Game doesn't have much of a plot and what is there just exists for you to relive the more memorable moments from the first three Rambo movies. The game expects you to be already familar with the films which is fair enough, but if you haven't seen them, you are just going to be lost figuring out who the characters are and what the hell is going on. The story is difficult to enjoy thanks to the low quality of the cutscenes. All of them are compressed to hell, making already terrible graphics even worse. It is also strange that a lot of the dialogue seems to be ripped straight from the movies; It just doesn't sound quite right.
On terms of the gameplay, the game is at its best during combat. As mentioned, it is an on-rails shooter like Time Crisis or Virtua Cop. However, there is no lightgun support, so instead you will either use a controller or a mouse and keyboard setup, if you are playing the PC version like myself. I have played with both control styles and the mouse and keyboard combo is definitely the way to go. I actually think using a mouse is the second best input device you could use to play a game like this, as it is fast and precise. As you can imagine, using the controller is quite the opposite, making aiming a chore. You do get some aim assist when using a controller, but it isn't enough to make that a fun way of playing the game.
Once you start playing Rambo: The Video Game, it is fun for a while. All of the guns feel powerful, thanks to the copious amounts of blood that flies around after each kill. There aren't that many weapons and they all feel quite similar but nevertheless, the core shooting action is satisfying.
Along with the shooting, you will need to use cover effectively in order to survive. The cover system is very similar to Time Crisis but the problem here is that you don't have access to cover all of the time. What enhances this issue is that fact when you are out of cover, you are just going to be shot repeatedly and there is no way to avoid damage. The game even has an active reload system, similar to Gears of War, so imagine if you mess up a reload when stuck out in the open...
Another design issue that feeds into this is how you regain lost health. Instead of shooting health kits lying around in the levels, you have to fill up a Wrath Meter, which when activated acts as a Bullet Time mode that with each successful kill in this mode, you fill up your health bar a tad. In order to activate the Wrath Meter in the first place, you just need to eliminate enemies. There is nothing wrong with this system on its own but some of the later levels are so difficult, you will need to use your Wrath Meter during certain encounters and if you can't use it, then you are pretty much screwed.
When you are not shooting at an army of clones, it is likely that you will be doing quick-time-events. I don't mind quick-time-events in some games but Rambo is one of those games where you are basically watching a cutscene and then every now and again, you have to press a button to move on. Most of the time, if you fail to press a button prompt on time, the game will kill you off, forcing you to retry from the last checkpoint. I get that the developers wanted to add some sort of variety to mix things up but these quick-time-events are just abysmal.
The game does do a good job of getting more difficult as you progress though. Early on, the game is easy but over time, you will be introduced to different enemy types. None of them are anything special, like guys with metal masks or guys who throw grenades, but they do help make the gameplay more challenging and intense. Even on the normal difficulty, the last two levels are ruthless and I can see many people either playing those levels on easy or just giving up entirely. The tough difficulty is offset slightly by unlockable perks and skills, which can help you earn more Wrath or enchance your weapon damage but Rambo is still a brutal game regardless.
The hard difficulty isn't necessary a bad thing, if that's what you're looking for, but I dislike that the normal and hard modes have a limit on how many times you can restart at the last checkpoint. On normal, you can only restart at the last checkpoint five times and once you use those five attempts, you have to start from the beginning of the level. The game is hard enough as it is already, and having only five attempts feels like a way of forcing the player to replay more content, making a short game just slightly longer.
Indeed, Rambo: The Video Game only did take me about 4 hours to finish, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even though I had fun with the combat at first, the novelty wears off very quickly and by the end, I was bored of what Rambo had to offer. And the occasional vehicle sections and quick-time-events did little to keep my interest. After finishing the game, there is little reason to go back. You could always improve your high-scores, play on a harder difficulty or unlock additional weapons, but you're likely not to bother.
The graphics throughout Rambo: The Video Game are hideous. Weapon models are big and ugly, the environments aren't very well detailed and the character model used for our titular hero just looks bizarre. I get that Sylvester Stallone is a unique looking individual, but his in-game model looks like a caricature, not the genuine article. The whole thing does not look good at all. Even if this game came out early on in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3's life cycle, I would still be disappointed.
The sound effects are decent throughout but there is nothing particularly stand-out about the sound design. The weapons and sound used during gameplay do the job nicely, but you might recognise some of gun sounds from other games or movies. The music is solid too and the voice acting that was recorded specifically for the game is perfectly functional. While nothing about the sound in Rambo is particularly noteworthy, I can't find much wrong with it either.
In conclusion, Rambo: The Video Game doesn't work because of it's ludicrous price tag. The game isn't the great disaster the way some folks are making it out to be, but the product is just a blatant cash grab. It is a shame because the Rambo franchise has plenty of potential to have a great videogame in it.
It makes me sad that the only people who are going to buy this are the people who don't read about games before they buy them. They are going to look at the screenshots and think, "Huh, looks like a first-person shooter." They are going to be extremely disappointed when they boot the game up and will feel the need to make-up some excuse to get a refund. If this game didn't have the Rambo license, then no one would be talking about it and that's what Rambo: The Video Game ultimately deserves.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)